Monday, June 16, 2008

Criminal Intent: “Contract” Null and Void

I was so looking forward to seeing Chris Noth and the returning Julianne Nicholson in Law & Order Criminal Intent. This episode "Contract" left me horribly disappointed.

Julianne Nicholson was as fresh as ever and played the role of Detective Wheeler very well. But I am not quite sure about Chris Noth, as it seemed he was either playing Mike Logan to be very low key, or he just didn’t feel like giving his best. Maybe Sex and the City filming took too much out of him, but he looked tired and disinterested in this episode.

Compounding matters is that this episode was muddled, confusing, and frankly, boring. Coming on the heels of last week’s intense trip to Goren's (Vincent D'Onofrio) “Purgatory,” this week’s episode just didn’t deliver. Even more horrid was the shameless plug for USA’s new show, “In Plain Sight” with a cameo by that show’s star, Mary McCormack.

But let’s go through the recap, as painful as it may be. By the way, I'm not quite sure of the spelling of all the character's names, so bear with me.

The episode opened with a TV news anchor - Elliott - getting ready for his newscast, and an envelope being delivered to him. It’s highly compromising photographs. We see TK Richmond (Mo Rocca) on the phone telling Elliott to calm down, that there's no need to run the pictured in his column, Clearly TK is blackmailing him. We then see TK's sister (Emily Kinney) telling him that someone named Elliot is phoning for him, and later see Elliott and TK in a car, meeting about the blackmail photos. But, there also seems to be someone listening in to the calls; Elliott is wired, seemingly hoping to trap TK in the blackmail scheme. TK makes a reference that he’s not out to ruin Elliot’s life, its not like Eliot did something bad like try to take advantage of some naive high school girl. He goes to light his cigarette using his car cigarette lighter and - BOOM!- the car explodes. TK is killed, Elliot runs from the car, deafened,

Logan comes to the scene, and reference Wheeler being overseas for six months and with her return all hell breaks loose. “I missed you too, Logan,” she responds. She tells Logan that TK, a gossip columnist for the Ledger, was under surveillance by the DA’s office because of the purported blackmail scheme against the TV newscaster for seeing call girls. One of the cops says “Think Spitzer, not McGreevey.” Well, since it was established recently in a Law & Order episode, the Governor of New York is named “Shalvoy”, just who are we to think is this “Spitzer” guy? The Law & Order franchise has had some continuity problems before, but this one, since the Law & Order story was so recent, seems like a huge, glaring error.

While questioning Elliott, they are told that TK was trying to get another bite of the blackmail pie, and saying the money was for an investment for a restaurant deal. They question the restaurant owner and chef (Timothy Adams), who really didn’t know who the other investors were that TK had. But, they do believe TK had other “marks” out there, so they talk to TK’s sister for more clues. When asked for access to TK's laptop, they are told he didn’t keep anything on computer, he typed thins up on an old typewriter and she retyped them into a computer and emailed them to TK. She does give them a copy of her scrapbook, which has all his articles in it. Logan also found a drawer full of various drugs and pills.

In the meantime, they are given information about the explosives used for the car bomb. In passing, Ross noticed a tan line on Wheeler’s ring finger, and she says she got engaged. Logan looks surprised, Wheeler indicates Logan will get to meet him, and then the issue is dropped. Wheeler is looking at phone records and TK’s articles, which lead them to real estate developer, a casino owner, and concert promoter.

When Logan remembers that the chef mentioned a real estate developer, they hone in on Ted Regan (Brian Haley), working on a waterfront development. Before Wheeler goes off to question Regan, she asks Logan if the mug left at her desk with the word “Princess” on it was a gift – he says Falacci must have left it by mistake. Wheeler notes that it apeared Falacci was really trying to mark her desk and stay Logan’s partner. Logan says that Falacci went off to Quantico because she felt hamstrung by Major Case. At this point, I was feeling the same way about this episode.

Wheeler is questioning Regan at a job site without Logan. Wheeler comes to realize that TK was using his column to get an in with other people, blackmail AND get things like a cheap lease for TK’s apartment, and the restaurant investment. Regan turns out to be a dead end. Logan apparently checked out the other two suspects and they were dead ends as well. But, they conclude that TK starts off as their extortionist and ends up as their publicist.

Back to questioning his sister, they find more information that indicate TK may have been involved in some gambling, and there may be bookies involved. When TK’s sister indicates she doesn’t want to be late for the funeral, Logan offers her a ride. At the funeral parlor, there are no visitors. As Logan and Wheeler talk off to the side, a man approaches TK’s sister and appears to be making threats. When Logan and Wheeler go after him, the man dumps a gun. They catch up with him, and he tells them that TK owed him money. He also said TK had a connection that would give him the inside line on injuries for basketball and baseball players.

This leads them to TK’s “Dr. Feelgood” who was Dr. Jacoby (Tibor Feldman), who supplied TK with his drugs. The doctor says he couldn’t’ tell TK about player injuries because of doctor-patient confidentiality, and points Logan to his criminal defense lawyer.

Back at One PP, Wheeler says that they managed to get the records “off the record” since Dr. Jacoby as involved in a sports steroid investigation and the DEA has been tracking his prescriptions. They find sports people and actors who were on drugs and steroids. One of the people involved was actor Spencer London, (David Fumero) who died on a movie set in Louisiana last month. Wheeler connects it to a TK blind item about a movie star in trouble down south. The press said London’s death was heart failure. But, it seems none of the drugs London was using was for his heart. Wheeler and Logan go to Louisiana to visit the set.

They speak with Beverly Tyson (Illeana Douglas) who explains the movie he was working on was called “Contract Man” and they were hoping for a Christmas release. They did have to use a double for the last few parts of shooing. When asked why Dr. Jacoby had to come there, she send London was starting to feel sick towards the end of the shoot, and the doctor gave him a few B12 shot and antibiotics, which weren’t that at all. When asked if TK was around during the shoot, she said TK came down for the memorial service, ate some alligator sausage and went the New Orleans. She seems surprised to hear any of the drug allegations.

Back at One PP, ME Rogers (Leslie Hendrix) and Captain Ross (Eric Bogosian) are having a cozy little lunch (Ew!) talking about London’s death. She tells Ross that he did have a heart defect and did have an aortic aneurysm, and said it was a reasonable cause of death, but the tox screen received later indicated otherwise. Ross thinks that the real cause of death was buried because of insurance and other reasons. Logan and Wheeler speak to Dr. Benway (Jeff Biehl), who originally announced London’s cause of death and why he didn’t correct the cause of death as due to drugs. The doctor admits TK questioned him, but that “the movie people” took care of it. When Wheeler asks if it was Tyson, he says it was her husband, Barry Freedberg (Jeff Garlin), head of the studio, who approached the doctor at the memorial. The doctor says Freedberg is having the doctor write a “film treatment’ for the doctor’s Hurricane Katrina story, which sounds a bit like a payoff to the detectives.

They find that Freedberg’s BFP films is a silent partner in his wife’s movie. Thankfully, Logan recaps for Wheeler (and I am sure for viewers too) that Tyson’s star OD’s on company-supplied drugs, her husband comes in to do damage control, bribes the doctor to cover the cause of death and try to pay off TK. But, TK gets greedy.

The question Freedberg, who says “who knew” that London was a walking time bomb. He seems surprised when told that doctor would give up London’s privacy to discuss London’s death – but Wheeler throws out the fact that Freedberg gave the doctor incentive by Freedberg dangling a screenplay at him. When Logan presses Freedberg about TK's involvement, he basically says he’s not smart enough for bombs, and he can’t even program his DVR. Logan says that Freedberg can do screenplay deals, and Freedberg says that even Logan probably has a few stories of his own. Logan gets him back to TK, and says TK did turn in a script for his $50 grand that Freedberg gave him.

Back to questioning his sister, she says that her brother wasn’t writing a screenplay. When asked if TK brought her something from down south, she says Mardi Gras beads, but also remembers some alligator sausage in the freezer. This turns out to be several DVDs marked “select dailies from the Contract Man, ” the Spencer London Movie.

Back at One PP looking at the films, they see London staggering in a scene, looking drunk, and other scenes where London is putting in a tape deck on the boat. Logan makes the connection to a real case, where someone was blown up by a tape deck rigged to explode upon use on a houseboat. The real case was someone with a supermarket chain that had ties to the mob. But, the case is still open, and it could be the bombers signature. Part of the original crime used in the plot of the movie was never released to the press, so Logan and Wheeler try to hunt down the scriptwriter. It appears it’s been through many hands, and they find the first writer who wrote about the bomb on the boat and the jogger was done by Francesco X. Chessare. Beverly Tyson, though, brought the latest writer to re-work the story, and that this was her big passion project.

Back at Beverly Tyson’s, she’s acting uncomfortable with Logan and Wheeler’s scrutiny. She tells them “Frankie” is dead, and died in a car accident shortly after the script was done. Logan wonders if she never met “Francesco”, why she referred to him as Frank. It turns out they can’t find anyone by that name who never died in a car accident. They also find that Beverly Tyson grew up as Beverly Banducci of Staten Island, but when she was 18 she was arrested for shoplifting, along with her friend Frank Chess, who must be the elusive Francesco. Frank Chess (Federico Castellucio ) has a long record of his own, and bombings are included in that list. He was also supposed to be in witness protection, and a fake car crash was a cover. Apparently, Tyson and Chess were sweethearts and that Chess’s story is her “passion play.”

The next scene brings me to one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen in the Law & Order universe – the shameless plug for another TV show. This one was for USA Network’s “In Plain Sight” with Mary Mc Cormack. In this scene on LOCI, Mary appears as her IPS persona Mary Shannon, who just happened to be in town, and who originally got Frank into witness protection but they took him off their list when he continued to not play by the rules. Of course, she can’t stick around long, and has to be in Albuquerque by Sunday at 10. Wheeler wonders what is so important that she has to be back in Albuquerque by Sunday at 10? Hmmm… could it be that’s the time of her USA Network show??? This type of plug is completely inappropriate for any show in the Law & Order franchise and made an already bad episode even worse. And by the way, it also put “In Plain Sight” on my “make sure NOT to watch” list. Anyway, the whole point of this scene is to just tell the detectives to be cautious about Frank Chess. A complete waste.

So now that I don’t even care any more about the case, let’s cut to the chase. Tyson and Chess are arrested, Chess takes the fall, but they believe that Tyson and Freedberg is behind the set up of TK’s murder. But they hone in on Freedberg when it’s discovered that TK’s sister – whom he was trying to help break into acting – was probably raped by Freedberg and the TK was out to destroy Freedberg. Logan questions Freedberg, Freedberg bribes Logan and later admitted to having sex with TK’s sister who was underage. Logan also gets Freedberg to admit that he knew Chess was having an affair with his wife, and that he got Frank to take care of TK by telling his wife that Chess was in trouble, setting the whole situation up to lead to murder, When Freedberg tries to blackmail Logan with the recording he just made of their conversation, Logan comes back with recorder of his own, which included Freedberg admissions,

Whew! Thankfully, this horrible, bloated, confusing and boring episode is over.

I’m not exactly what else to say about this episode. I found the scene plugging “In Plain Sight” almost criminal. The Law & Order universe always does well when it allows characters from other shows from the franchise to have guest appearances, but dragging in someone from outside the franchise seems cheap and cheesy. I thought it completely tanked the episode as far as I was concerned.

But the story itself wasn’t even remotely interesting. There were too many red herrings, too many players, just too many people involved. And there was literally no drama in the show. I never felt any suspense, I never cared about the crime or those involved. It just brought out no feeling in me whatsoever.

Worst of all, Chris Noth seemed uninterested himself. I am not sure if they want Logan to seem world weary, but he just came off as just weary, like if he was going through the motions. I also am starting to think that he’s starting to fall into eating too many donuts at One Police Plaza, because Logan looked like he was sporting a bit of a donut gut.

Julianne Nicholson, on the other hand, seemed to still have the spark and seems to have good possibilities as a great partner for Logan.

High on the ICK factor was Captain Ross and ME Rogers. I’m sorry, but if they are trying to continue to suggest a relationship with those two, I wish they’d stop. There seems be be no chemistry with them, not any that I'd want to think about, anyway. I think I mentioned on this blog once before that maybe they are being matched because she works with the dead and he acts like he’d dead. That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it.

If you haven’t already watched “Contract”, I suggest you pass on it – it’s null and void. Oh yeah, pass on “In Plain Sight” – just because.

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Anonymous said...

I thought the two-part crossover with NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" was done very well, so this isn't the first time L&O has merged with another show.

I've only watched 1 ep of In Plain Sight and while it holds promise, the pilot tried waaaay too hard.

To me, it's just marketing. Would've liked to have seen a less cringe-worthy guest appearance; this one was simply wedged in with little forethought, though Logan's tres-New Yorker wisecrack about having nothing to do in Phoenix made me grin.

Also: I much preferred the other female detective and was sad to see her go; she had a real spark. Blanking on her name because I haven't yet had my coffee.

Chris Zimmer said...

I forgot about HLOTS and the L&O crossovers. Those stories actually seemed to, well, have stories behind them and were more in depth. This was - as you said - just marketing.

As far as the other female detective, are you thinkg of Falacci, played by Alicia Witt?

Music Wench said...

Well, I thought it was a solid episode for LOCI. No horrible personal depression and angst for either detective was great. An actual case file that didn't have anything to do with either detective's personal life or bid for redemption.

It wasn't 'great' but it wasn't an emotional mess either. I think that's why I liked it so much and of course Wheeler is back and I loved how she dumped Falacci's purple nail polish in the trash. Now if the cup would go, next, it wold be choice! LOL

Sorry, I'm just in the 'get Goren out of the depression already' camp. I don't want 'shiny happy Goren' or anything. Just not the dark depressing, poor misunderstood genius.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Falacci. Liked her much more. I've long been disappointed with the female detectives on CI, except for Annabella Sciorra, who seemed to be a bit of a mirror image of Goren's character. I've always been frustrated by something Eames herself pointed out in the premiere; Goran's the brains and she's a pretty unremarkable, average Jo (except for her smarts about cars). The imbalance always got to me; why is it so hard to write a gritty, interesting female for this show (thinking Melissa Leo's Det. Kay Howard from Homicide)? Falacci came close.

I don't begrudge the networks doing marketing like this; combine TiVo with programming schedules all over the map, it's getting harder to draw viewers in. Now it would be truly sweet if In Plain Sight ends up being watchable after all.

Anonymous said...

Music Wench - You might get your wish about Goren. The head writer for CI defected to join HBO's "In Therapy." Apparently the writer worked closely with D'Onofrio to craft this descent into madness, weight gain, and "beard/not a beard" indecision. As you can tell, I'm not a fan of this storyline, either. I like Goren, don't get me wrong, but like Elliott on SVU, it's too much. Any time the franchise strays from the procedural, it doesn't seem to gel for me.

Anonymous said...

As for the Shalvoy comment, you're right, but I have my reason why they used Spitzer instead.

The WGA strike was resolved early March, right, so everyone went back to work. Now, this is the second CI of the resumed season, whereas, Shalvoy's first appearance/mention ("Personae Non Grata") was in the Mothership's fourth resumed episode (a two episode margin). As such, the CI writers had to go with what was there at the time.

Of course, this might have been avoided if the franchise writers do what comic book writers do: do a summit and craft all their storylines together for the following year. However, I don't think they do that, so, what can you do? I know I chastize the franchise whenever they flub on continuity, but I can forgive them, plus they seem to write at the moment. These people aren't Joss Whedon.

As for the lack of proper female characters (alluded to by toni), the franchise has always had that problem from the get. Look at MS' fourth season (the first real injection of women), and they were essentially wallpaper. They've since improved, but for every hit (Jamie Ross, Abbie Carmichael, Alex Cabot, early Novak, Eames when useful), we have a miss (Benson, late Serena, Jefferies, Eames when she's not useful, early Cassidy. Mileage varies over Olivet).

As for Noth phoning in his performance: well, the SATC movie didn't help, but I've felt his lack of a performance since Season 7 started.

No comment on the cameo. As forgetting on H:LOTS, it happens to the best of us.

val said...

Not sure how Noth can be tired because of filming - his film was made last year, and he just had the long period of the writers' strike off. Maybe it's the baby, maybe it's just that he's crap (IMHO).

Anonymous said...

john k: Not sure I agree with you on your point about female characters being weak across the L&O franchise; I think the mothership has been the strongest (see: Merkerson, Hennessey, and Harmon) and SVU's Hargitay and the two ADAs had depth to them. The ME's are also always compelling to view. CI has been the weakest, with only Sciorra & the actor who played Falacci (too lazy to google her) being a strong female characters.

Anonymous said...

Again, mileage varies. Merkerson's Van Buren is a fine character, but the writers took their sweet time with her. Her airtime in the past was all over the place. Then again, Cragen didn't get to do much back then, either, but that's the main criticism I get from the Anita fans I've encountered. In fairness, the recent season gave her more airtime than the past few years, so my would-be argument is mostly usage, there.

Hennessy, that's a mixed bag, as the writers essentially turned her onto their author avatar for the death penalty (among other things, and the same happened to late Novak, to a degree). I'm not denying she's a strong character, but I question the writers' execution of her, there. Pun not intended.

Hargitay, herself, is alright, but I have read reviews on Benson's over-the-top acting in the early seasons, and I can finally understand their reaction as I have re-watched Season 1. Plus, the occasional emotional outburst doesn't exactly help, vs, say, a cop's standards (L&O or real-life). By contrast, when has Eames done that? At least, she has a real good excuse for a lapse ("Amends" and her most modern episode), whereas, Benson, not as much. And the latest seasons haven't helped, with Benson turning into Elliot 2.0., whose own emotional outlook is questionable (in and out of series).

I forgot about the M.E., but I mostly see her as medical exposition, but, yeah, recently, she's been more feminine, so I concede the point, there.

The franchise is capable of strong female characters, yes, and they've long improved since 1993. But they have their ways to go, like other male-dominated shows.

As food for thought, notice how the Mothership waited 7 years since the male-female tier was first introduced in SVU before they tried it (1999 to 2006). Meanwhile, CI did it from the jump, after noting the popularity of Benson/Stabler. And then, after Cassady "left," instead of getting another woman, they just returned to the male-male tier. I rather wish they stayed on the different tack, but what can you do? Then again, the show has been male-dominated, and they acknowledge it, so you know the lay of the land.

Ironically, Trial by Jury had a female/female prosecutor team, which worked quite nicely. Yet, the show tanked, anyway. Pity.

I guess I could mention Kent from CI Season 6, but the writers didn't want to use her for whatever reason, so it's just wasted potential there. You already said on the rest of CI's female issues, so I won't go into it further.

Anonymous said...

Noth phoning in his performances for season 7 - look at the wonderful Courtship and Senseless - which was nominated for a Edgar Alenn Poe award - So this episode wasn't everyone's bag no big deal.

AND Val I have come across your posts in other places - you come across as rude, abrasive and incredibly unclassy as well - you should really work on that : )

Anonymous said...

You're right. Noth was great in Senseless (I'll get back to you on Courtship), so I'll certainly take that back. And after the two heavy Goren episodes, a breather episode is much needed.

Of course, it doesn't forgive that this episode starred Mo Rocca, a man whom I irrationally don't care for. He only had a cameo on SVU, now a starring role here. If he becomes a defense attorney on the Mothership, I think I'll quit on the show. Ha....

I'm not sure if I'm being facetious or not. Heh.